Bob and Liz Bestor report on 11 hotels in and around Baden-Baden, from the ultra-luxurious Brenner's Park-Hotel & Spa to much simpler accommodations. Among them are some excellent values.

Travelers to Germany who require unremitting culture are advised to give Baden-Baden a pass. But if for a few days you can forgo Baroque churches big enough for the Super Bowl, walled towns with half-timbered buildings older than Plymouth Rock and opera houses where Beethoven's initials are carved on a stall in the men's room, in favor of the genteel ambiance of Europe's most fabled spa, you are likely to find a few days there restful and renewing.

And, to be honest, there are other things to do besides - as Europe's richest and most noble tourists have since the mid-19th century - stroll the Lichtentaler Allee, the extraordinarily beautiful promenade and park along the Oosbach River; partake of the town's healing waters; or gambol and gamble in the famous spielbank (casino) where many a Russian prince has dropped many a bundle.

Baden-Baden is, after all, located at the northern end of the Black Forest and the many delights of that region are easily and quickly accessible. France, too, is just a few minutes away by car or train.

You will especially enjoy a Baden-Baden stay if your budget can stand one of the town's posh hotels, particularly the renowned Brenner's Park overlooking the river. That is not to diminish less expensive hotels reviewed here. For example, the Hotel Rebenhof, in the vineyards about a 10-minute drive from the center of Baden-Baden, is one of the best values we've encountered in the last several years.

When planning a stay in Baden-Baden one should be aware of the special rates available through the local tourist office. During the low season July 1 to August 15, November 1 to December 14 and January 7 to March 31 the special "Baden-Baden Adventure" package price in one of the town's luxury hotels, including the Brenner's Park, is 165 DM ($107) per night, per person, double occupancy, minimum two nights; a good deal considering the Brenner's double room rack rates range from $292 to over $600 per night, not including breakfast or any of the extras offered in the package. If you're willing to commit to a week, the per person price per night is 141 DM ($92). The weekend package also includes breakfasts, dinner one night at a local in-spot, the Palais Gagarin, and other extras. The seven-night package includes breakfasts, a four-course "gourmet" dinner at Der Kleine Prinz, a wine tasting, free public transport, a visit to the Roman-Irish Bath and a concert of the Baden-Baden Orchestra.

Package prices in the lower category hotels are less, of course. A weekend arrangement with the same extras, in the lowest category, a "standard" hotel, is 91 DM ($59) per person, per night, double occupancy. The seven-night program costs 67 DM ($44). Figure about 7% to 22% additional for single occupancy. High season rates are only slightly higher.

Hotels

Brenner's Park-Hotel & Spa

(Editor's Choice)

The Brenner's certainly ranks with the grandest of the "grand" hotels Gemütlichkeit has reviewed over the eight years of its existence. It must be added to a list that includes the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, the Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken, the Vier Jahreszeiten in Hamburg, Vienna's Imperial and, in a slightly different category, the Grüner Baum in Badgastein, Austria.

In a hotel of this caliber and price, one has every right to expect lavish guest rooms, elegant public rooms, excellent food and near-smothering service. The Brenner's fills the bill on all counts. In addition, it has an almost country setting, opening onto the Lichtentaler Allee, the park that follows the Oos river through Baden-Baden; and yet the hotel is no more than a five-minute walk to the town center.

We were upgraded to a new, beautifully redecorated junior suite. Our soaring windows overlooked the park. In the morning we wakened to the birds and at night drifted off to sleep to the sound of the wind in the trees. There was a separate dressing room and a large bathroom with perhaps the best shower we've ever had in a hotel room. It, like the rest of the bathroom, was all marble tile with a thick, clear glass door and roomy enough inside for a family of four.

Existence at the Brenner's is a pampered one. To this unpracticed eye, the hotel's spa and Lancaster Beauty Farm seems to offer every conceivable health and beauty procedure known to man. Let's say you had surgery in Switzerland and want to recuperate at the Brenner's. The hotel can send a helicopter and put you up in a private apartment in its Black Forest Clinic in the adjacent Villa Stephanie. If you're someone who must be concerned with security it might be the penthouse with bulletproof windows at 3,000 DM ($1948) per night (substantial discounts available, of course, for long-term stays). Guests with simpler needs can amuse themselves with facials, massages, manicures, medical pedicures, lymph drainages, cellulite treatments or the ever-popular sea algae body treatment. And of course there are saunas, solariums and an indoor pool with a panoramic view of the Lichtentaler Allee.

Want to have pearls restrung or your jewelry cleaned? The hotel will arrange to have it done at no cost.

High tea is served daily at 4 p.m. in the salon off the main lobby. Beginning at 5 p.m. in this same room, a pianist in white dinner jacket plays light classics. A few steps away, in the Oleander Bar, more live piano can be heard into the wee hours.

Service, for the most part, met our high expectation. The affable men who manned the hotel's concierge desk were particularly helpful and unfailingly pleasant. There were, however, a couple of glitches. Liz's difficulty with opening the door to our room was met with impatience by personnel on duty at the front desk. When trying to unlock the room about 10 p.m. one night, the entire lock cylinder fell out in her hand. At the front desk the night porter's deep sigh and rolling eyes sent a clear message: "another helpless woman." We waited 45 minutes in the Oleander Bar for the lock to be repaired. Vindication came the next morning when a single turn of the housekeeper's key caused the lock to again fall apart. We don't quarrel with the malfunction - the door and lock were new and these things happen - but with the attitude of the hotel personnel. For the record, there was also a botched appointment with the Lancaster Beauty Farm and a 30 DM charge for a car wash that was never requested.

Another criticism is one voiced in an earlier issue (April, 94). It concerns the hotel's policy of a 10 DM ($6.50) surcharge for each call to the U.S. via AT&T's USA Direct. Guests not only pay the fee, but must give the hotel operator the number and wait for a callback. This makes a series of calls to the U.S. not only expensive but time consuming. In most European hotels, such calls can be dialed directly from the room and are deemed local and never appear on the bill.

We also confess to being disappointed that the menus in the hotel's main restaurant (coat required at lunch, coat and tie required after 6 p.m. in restaurant and salon) and the less formal Schwarzwaldstube are identical.

Everything we chose from the Brenner's conservative, traditional menu was very good, though, not surprisingly, quite expensive. Tender, juicy and perfectly cooked breast of chicken in a lively rosemary sauce, was 48 DM ($31). Sautéed liver in a vinegary sauce with fried potatoes and a small salad was 38 DM ($25). A shared first-course of Norwegian smoked salmon with toast points and a creamed horseradish sauce was 36 DM ($23). This was the Schwarzwaldstube where, including dessert, a bottle of wine, two pre-dinner drinks (one each) and mineral water, the bill was 209 DM ($136).

The next night, in the more formal and elegant Brenner's Park Restaurant, where we upgraded the wine, dessert and added a glass of after-dinner port, the tab was 260 DM ($169). The star of that meal was truly outstanding calves sweetbreads. Service in both rooms was faultless.

This is without any doubt a great hotel, but incidents recounted earlier took some of the luster off our stay.

• Address: Brenner's Park-Hotel & Spa Schillerstr. 6 D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/9000

* Fax: 07221/38772

* Location: Park setting, 5 minutes walk from center of town

* Rooms: 100 rooms, 68 singles and doubles, and 32 suites.

* Proprietor: Richard Schmitz, Director

* Prices: Singles 310 to 650 DM ($201 to $422), doubles 450 to 980 DM ($292 to $636)

* Facilities: Extensive spa services, hairdresser, two restaurants, Indoor pool.

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Limited access

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Underground garage, 28 DM ($18) per day

* Other Comments: Breakfast is an additional 35 DM ($23) per day.

* Rating: Excellent 18.5/20

Romantik-Hotel Der Kleine Prinz

Though it seemed to us a bit contrived, Der Kleine Prinz offers its patron's loads of charm and 33 beautifully decorated guestrooms in a 100-year old, five-story Baroque building. This is a hotel built around a theme a -French children's tale, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Carrying the motif are what we assume to be reproductions of colorful illustrations from the Saint-Exupéry book. The redheaded, black-booted Little Prince in his blue and red cloak is everywhere. To steal a Jacques Brel lyric, "Cute, cute, cute, in a stupid a _ _ way."

Even to those of us who think the whole thing is somewhat overdone, guestrooms are extraordinary. Pick any one: the penthouse suite (750 DM/$487) with its fireplace, slanting ceilings, heavy beams, large living and dining area, hand-painted porcelain bathroom fixtures and a giant, retractable skylight; or perhaps the Turmzimmer (Tower Room) (425 DM/$276) with wicker furniture, exposed beams and dormer windows. Double rooms are priced at 375 DM ($244) - 275 DM ($179) single - during the high season. At that price, you might try one of the Laura Ashley rooms or Number 34, Mille Fleurs (a thousand flowers).

The hotel has a lovely but pricey little restaurant offering meals from about $45 to $65. Each afternoon, guests are served tea and cakes compliments of the house.

The Little Prince is the creation of Edeltraud Rademacher and her husband, Norbert, who worked in catering for 22 years at New York's Waldorf Astoria. its uniformed staff is very professional and guests are well cared for.

For those who cotton to super-chic little hotels and whose travel budget can stand it this is a fine choice but for only a few dollars more one can be at a true heavyweight of a hotel, the Brenner's Park.

• Address: Romantik-Hotel Der Kleine Prinz Lichtentaler Strasse 36, D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/3464

* Fax: 07221/38264

* Location: In the center, near the Kurhaus, about 200 meters from the river.

* Rooms: 33 total rooms, 9 suites

* Proprietor: Edeltraud & Norbert Rademacher

* Prices: Singles 195 to 275 DM ($127 to $179), doubles 295 to 375 DM ($192 to $244), junior suites 395 to 650 DM ($256 to $422)

* Facilities: Lift only in the new building

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: 15 DM ($10) per night

* Rating: Excellent 16.5/20

Privathotel Quisisana

This is sort of a scaled down version of the Brenner's Park. There are sumptuous but smaller spa facilities and one gets the same sense of a moneyed clientèle.

The 19th century villa has been recently upgraded to 90s elegance in a clean, contemporary art nouveau style. Particularly impressive are the hotel's wintergarden restaurant (where, incidentally, low-calorie meals are served), a salon with a shiny grand piano and crystal and gold chandeliers, and the gleaming spa where a waterfall spills into the indoor swimming pool and guests can watch a video from the Jacuzzi.

Guestrooms aren't quite the equal of those at the Brenner's or the Kleine Prinz, but you'll be very comfortable in any of the high-ceilinged rooms, many with views over the city.

The luxury and peace of the Quisisana don't come cheap. The top "bargain" is Number 78, a large double whose bed is tucked into an alcove and rents for 360 DM ($234), without balcony. Most other doubles are 420 DM ($273). The best single room value is Number 9, renting for 220 DM ($143).

• Address: Privathotel Quisisana, Bismarckstrasse 21, D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/3440

* Fax: 07221/38195

* Location: In a hilly, forested residential area approximately a 10-minute drive from the center

* Rooms: 60 total

* Proprietor: Jürgen & Elke Krämer

* Prices: Singles 180 to 260 DM ($117 to $169), doubles 300 to 420 DM ($195 to $273)

* Facilities: Beautiful indoor pool and spa

* Credit Cards: Visa, MasterCard

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Free

* Other Comments: Restaurant only for hotel guests

* Rating: Excellent 16/20

Allee-Hotel Bären

A peaceful, almost stately atmosphere, comfortable guestrooms and a location on the Lichtentaler Allee are the Hotel Bären's principal virtues.

While some may consider its quiet, residential location - a 15 to 20 minute walk to the city center - an advantage, we think the Bären's prices are a bit out of line for a hotel this far out. Room Number 9, for example, a small no-smoking double without balcony is 305 DM ($198). The least expensive doubles rent for 206 DM ($134) and are on the side away from the park. The cheapest single on that side is 119 DM ($77).

But the location is lovely and the Bären takes advantage of it by putting on twice-weekly barbecues in the hotel garden adjoining the park.

We would be more enthusiastic about the Bären if its rates were lower.

• Address: Allee-Hotel Bären Hauptstrasse 36 D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/7020

* Fax: 07221/702113

* Location: On the promenade, about 1.5 km from the center

* Rooms: 80 total

* Proprietor: Family Kimmig

* Prices: Singles 119 to 206 DM ($77-$134), doubles 206 to 360 DM ($134-$234)

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: 3 DM per stay

* Other Comments: Member of the German Ringhotel group

* Rating: Above Average 15.5/20

Waldhotel Forellenhof

(Editor's Choice)

In a wooded setting about three miles from the city center, the Forellenhof offers excellent value and rustic charm.

The appealing interior of this green-shuttered, typical Black Forest farm house overflows with such country touches as carved wooden chandeliers, massive tile stoves and dark wood wainscoting.

Guest rooms in the newer section (preferred) have attractive cherrywood furniture, good sized bathrooms and new TV sets with remote control. Number 28 is a comfortable double renting for 180 DM ($117). Number 26 is an apartment with a very large sitting room and rents for 200 DM ($130).

The restaurant, no surprise, specializes in trout. One from the River Oos, for example, sautéed with slivered almonds costs 26 DM ($17) and comes with salad and rice, potatoes or noodles.

The Huber family's welcome is exceptionally warm. We like this hotel very much.

• Address: Waldhotel Forellenhof Gaisbach 91, D-76534 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/9740

* Fax: 07221/974299

* Location: 5 km outside Baden-Baden via Beuerner Strasse

* Rooms: 27 total

* Proprietor: Family Huber

* Prices: Singles 85 to 109 DM ($55-$71), doubles 140 to 180 DM ($91-$117)

* Credit Cards: All

* Facilities: Garden terrace, wooded setting

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Outdoors free

* Other Comments: A bus leaves for the center every 10 minutes from in front of the hotel.

* Rating: Above Average 15.5/20 G $

Hotel Sophienpark

This downtown hotel, recently modernized within an old building, caters to business travelers. Guest rooms are clean and bright and many open on to the adjacent Sophienpark.

Very good accommodations, if somewhat lacking in romance.

• Address: Hotel Sophienpark Sophienstrasse 14, D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/3560

* Fax: 07221/356121

* Location: In the center

* Rooms: 75 total

* Proprietor: Jürgen D. Krämer

* Prices: Singles 170 DM ($110), doubles 245 DM ($159), apartments 370 DM ($240)

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Yes

* Closed: Never

* Parking: 12 DM ($8) per day

* Rating: Above Average 14.5/20

Hotel Atlantic

Though it in no way matches the Brenner's in other respects, the Atlantic Hotel's location, directly on the Lichtentaler Allee, is nearly as auspicious. From a table in the wintergarden, or outside on the terrace, one can enjoy a view of the park and the parade of passing swells.

Built at the turn-of-the-century, the Atlantic retains some of the advantages of hotels from that era; notably large guestrooms with high ceilings and windows. Room Number 1, which rents for 306 DM ($199) is a good example. This huge double's tall windows open onto a balcony that overlooks the park. A smaller double, Number 2, also is on the park and goes for 219 DM ($142). Rooms on the street side rent for about 25 DM ($16) less.

On the no-smoking second floor, we like Number 216, a double on the park side with a beautiful balcony.

Furnishings and decor are of course much simpler than at the Brenner's. This is a good choice for those enamored of the location.

• Address: Hotel Atlantic Sofienstrasse 2a, D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/24111

* Fax: 07221/26260

* Location: In the center, on the park

* Rooms: 53 total

* Proprietor: Martina Kötter

* Prices: Singles 107 to 184 DM ($69 to $119), doubles 196 to 306 DM ($127 to $199)

* Facilities: Wintergarden, outdoor terrace with river view

* Credit Cards: All

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: 16-21 DM ($10-$14)/night

* Rating: Above Average 13.5/20

Hotel Deutscher Kaiser

A significant step down in quality, but not in price unfortunately, is the centrally located Deutscher Kaiser.

The hotel's salmon-colored façade, nicely set off by white shutters, is quite stylish, but inside, guestrooms border on drab. Bathrooms are small and poorly lit. The best room, Number 146, rents for 220 DM ($142) in high season. A smaller room, Number 141, goes for 190 DM ($123).

The accommodations here are decent but one can do as well in Baden-Baden for less money and, for a few additional dollars, much better.

• Address: Hotel Deutscher Kaiser Merkurstrasse 9, D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/2700

* Fax: 07221/270270

* Location: In the center

* Rooms: About 25 total

* Proprietor: Family Huber

* Prices: Singles 120 to 145 DM ($78-$94), doubles 140 to 180 DM ($91-$117)

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Public garage

* Rating: Average 10.5/20

Hotel-Restaurant Laterne

The elaborate front - flower boxes, red shutters and awnings and gold scroll work against a green background - of the Hotel-Restaurant Laterne is perhaps the most distinctive along Baden-Baden's pedestrian-only Gernsbacher Strasse. In addition, its restaurant and street café are one of the area's most popular stops.

But behind that façade are 15 simple, reasonably-priced guestrooms, most with toilet and shower. If you want to stay away from the street, ask for room Number 4 whose windows open to an enclosed courtyard and rents for 140 DM ($91). Number 37 is bigger and cheaper (120 DM/$78) but on the street.

• Address: Hotel-Restaurant Laterne, Gernsbacher Strasse 10 D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/29999

* Fax: 07221/38308

* Location: In the center

* Rooms: About 15

* Proprietor: Mike Brandau

* Prices: Singles 60 to 90 DM ($39-$58), doubles 90 to 150 DM ($58-$97)

* Facilities: Popular restaurant

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Casino garage, 7 DM ($4.50)

* Other Comments: No lift, member of the Minotel group

* Rating: Average 10.5/20

Hotel Am Friedrichsbad

The Am Friedrichsbad is a bit of the Czech Republic in the center of Baden-Baden. its main advantage is that the great Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell, is served in the hotel's Prager Stuben.

Guestrooms are borderline with worn carpets and furniture and an occasional spot of mildew in the bathrooms. Best of the lot is Number 123, a corner double with tall windows, a large bathroom with its own window and a small balcony. Or you might try the penthouse suite, which, in a kind of slap-dash way, is almost opulent.

No English spoken. The Laterne is better.

• Address: Hotel Am Friedrichsbad Gernsbacher Strasse 31, D-76530 Baden-Baden

* Phone: 07221/271046

* Fax: 07221/38310

* Location: In the center

* Rooms: 14 total, 6 singles, 7 doubles, 1 suite

* Proprietor: Prokop Pustina

* Prices: Singles 85 DM ($55), doubles 130 DM ($85), penthouse suite for 1-4 persons 190 DM ($123)

* Facilities: Prager Stuben serving Czech food and beer

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Never

* Parking: Public garage

* Rating: Adequate 7/20

Value in the Vineyards

Hotel Rebenhof

(Editor's Choice)

Not only is this the best hotel bargain we found in and around Baden-Baden but one of the best we've come across in several years.

The Rebenhof sits on a gentle slope in the vineyards on the edge of the town of Neuweier, about a 10-minute drive from Baden-Baden. The inviting reception area is done in light wood paneling and the dark tile floor is partially covered by a large, rich Oriental rug.

The gemütlich restaurant offers a panoramic view of the vineyards.

Clean-as-a-whistle guest rooms are attractively decorated, have fully-tiled bathrooms and large, sliding floor-to-ceiling windows that give a sense of being right in the vineyards. The best we saw was an apartment, Number 11, which features a large separate sitting area next to the huge sliding door/window that opens to a balcony and the vines. It rents for 160 DM ($104). A room with two twin beds, such as Number two, is just a smaller version of the apartment and goes for 132 DM ($86).

With the recent slip of the dollar, we are simply not seeing hotels of this caliber at these prices.

• Address: Hotel Rebenhof Weinstrasse 58, D-76534 Neuweier

* Phone: 07223/5406

* Fax: 07223/52321

* Location: In the vineyards in the wine town of Neuweier, 10 km SW of Baden-Baden via Fremersbergstrasse

* Rooms: 17 total

* Proprietor: Friedel Ziegler

* Prices: Singles 80 DM ($52), doubles 132 DM ($86), apartment 160 DM ($104)

* Disabled: Not suitable

* Closed: Middle Jan. to end March

* Parking: Outdoors free

* Rating: Above Average 15.5/20 G $

Baden-Baden

Population: 50,000

Altitude: 594 feet

Approximate distances from:

* Berlin 717 km 445 miles

* Frankfurt 180 km 112 miles

* Munich 332 km 206 miles

* Strasbourg, France 61 km 38 miles

* Stuttgart 112 km 69 miles

Tourist Information

* Haus des Kurgastes

* Augustaplatz 8

* Baden-Baden D-76530

* Phone: 07221/275241

* Fax: 07221/275260

Taking the Waters

Caracalla Thermal Baths

* Römerplatz 11

* Telephone: 07221/275940

* Completed in 1985. 1,000 square meters of outdoor and indoor pools with hot and cold grottoes, a canal with flowing water, bubbling pools, hot whirlpools and underwater air jets. Extensive sauna and solarium facilities.

Friedrichsbad

* Römerplatz 1

* Telephone 07221/275920

* Built in Renaissance style between 1869 and 1877 and restored in 1981. These are the famous Roman-Irish baths which include a hot-air steam bath, thermal pool, bubbling bath, exercise bath and plunge bath.

The Pump Room

* Kaiserallee 3

* Telephone: 07221/275277

* For those who want to drink the water. Choose from two kinds of spa water: Friedrichsquelle and Nrtinger water from Heinrichsquelle. Yuk.

For Gamblers

Baden-Baden Casino

* Kaiserallee 1

* Telephone: 07221/21060

* The oldest, largest casino in Germany and, some say, the most beautiful in the world. Guests can play French roulette, American roulette, baccara, black jack, poker and a game called klondyke. Minimum wager is 5 DM ($3.25), maximum is 20,000 DM ($12,987).

September 1994